Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth

A fresh adaptation of classic coming-of-age novel

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen and Timothée Chalamet. Directed by Greta Gerwig. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas. Rated PG.
Rated 4.0

There have been a lot of Little Women adaptations—for stage, TV and film—but this seventh big-screen adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel is the best. The third feature by visionary writer/director Greta Gerwig (of the ultra-fantastic Lady Bird) is an across-the-board stunner.

Gerwig’s admirable update of the precious 1868 work is beautiful to look at thanks to some of 2019’s best art direction and camerawork, and it’s chock-full of tremendous performances.

Saoirse Ronan, who also starred in Lady Bird, headlines as Jo March, eldest sister of the March clan that includes Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen). Ronan, not surprisingly, makes the intrepid character of Jo her own, a budding writer who is trying to get her ideas past a crusty editor, Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts, who had a damn fine 2019 — see: Ford v. Ferrari).

In a departure from past adaptations, Gerwig focuses more on the girls as adults, with flashbacks to their younger days. In doing this, she chose not to cast Amy with two different actresses. Pugh, who is well into her 20s, plays Amy at every stage, even falling through the ice as a pre-teen. It would seem an odd choice, but Pugh is masterful in every scene, even those in which she doesn’t look the age.

Timothée Chalamet plays boy-next-door Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, and there couldn’t have been a better choice for the role. His first dance with Jo, where they go a little crazy outside on a porch alone during a party, is as timeless as movie dancing gets. Chalamet has such skill and ridiculous charm in every line he delivers. He doesn’t waste a single second of his screen time.

My one quibble with the movie is Gerwig’s ambitious approach to jumping from the multiple timelines (not in chronological order). It’s a minor gripe because these occasional confusing moments were still enjoyable.

Little Women exemplifies how a period piece should be done. It’s a fresh take that makes you feel like you are experiencing a familiar story for the first time. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have Meryl Streep cast as the wealthy Aunt March. And driving it all home is one of the year’s greatest ensembles—brought together by Gerwig—playing characters that you root for.

Up next for Gerwig? Possibly a live-action Barbie movie she is co-writing with Noah Baumbach. Margot Robbie has been cast in the title role, and if Gerwig ends up at the directorial chair, it’s sure to be a fresh and interesting take.